Charlie drops me off at a two-story house in a village near the airport, a place called Butmir. The house is overgrown with trees and shrubs. One side faces "the green line"—the confrontation line between Serbs and Muslims. It's pockmarked by bullets. The fields around the house are bordered by blue tape with little skulls and crossbones -- land mines.
Bob comes out of the dark house and grabs my duffel bag. Inside, he gives me a quick tour. The owners fled at the beginning of the war, he says, which explains the thick coating of dust everywhere. The food in the refrigerator is calcified. A couple of the windows are shot out. You can see where a bullet came through a window, ricocheted off the ceiling, knocked over some knickknack on the shelf, and lodged in the wall in the living room. There's an upstairs bathroom, but the water's shut off, just as it is to the rest of the village. Bob takes me back downstairs and points at a hose coming through the window of the downstairs laundry room. It's connected to an irrigation pipe off Igman, the mountain that sits just southwest of Sarajevo. He says the showers wake you up fast. I turn it on. The water's icy. The hose is the only way to flush the toilet.
It's completely dark now. Bob turns on the light, but tells me not to get used to it. The electricity goes off in a half hour, and there's no generator or flashlights. I say good night, go downstairs to my bedroom, pull the dusty sheets off the bed, and spread out my sleeping bag. As Bob promised, the lights flicker off, and I lie there in the black. Just as I close my eyes, a machine gun fires in the distance, from the direction of the green line. An angry fusillade answers. I sit up expecting Bob to come out of his room. But there's not a sound. A rocket explodes in the direction of the airport. I wonder if this isn't the start of something serious, like a Serbian attack on Sarajevo. I don't hear a sound from Bob's room, and can only think he's sleeping through it.
I zip up my sleeping bag. If it isn't going to bother him, it's not going to bother me. After an hour the shooting tapers off and stops. The last thing I remember before falling asleep is that I haven't seen the lime-green station wagon. It seems to have been replaced by an old Toyota Land Cruiser with rust-chewed doors and a cracked windshield. That's a start.
Copyright 2011 Random House